Consciousness as story

Some recent questions to myself:

Reading philosophy and psychology for so many years, was I looking all along for an explanation of consciousness?

Through neurological and evolutionary science, and more philosophy and more psychology and, in addition, some anthropology, some history. And fiction. And rhetoric. Trying, perhaps, to understand the self? Through criticism, through art, through literature?

Looking carefully at art, reading literature closely: were those also endeavors to comprehend what mind is? Other minds? My own mind? Through the creative act, perhaps?

Is the ars poetica a kind of manifesto of human consciousness from an individual perspective, yet open to interpretation by other human minds? And the beautiful–what is it that even makes beauty a significant concept? Where did that come from? Evolution and the sexual drive (see Dutton riffing on Darwin)? Society? Synthesis? Ego? Inspiration? Angels?

Is every story a scaffold to consciousness? A hedge against oblivion? (Self-oblivion, the hardest navigation act there is: depression, hopelessness, loss of self-knowledge, coma).

I wonder if the stories we tell to others and to ourselves, employing memory selectively whether or not we realize it, act as a kind of (modern-day, metaphorical) Chain of Being through which we develop Theory of Mind and, beyond that, a sense not just of ego but of neurological consciousness. If stories are what make us human.


The chain of being, from Charles Bonnet, Œuvres d'histoire naturelle et de philosophie, 1779-83

The chain of being, from Charles Bonnet, Œuvres d’histoire naturelle et de philosophie, 1779-83

[Note: I do not hold the medieval concept of a hierarchy in which Man, angels, and God stand above all other things; the stone and the plankton have as much value–likely more–than I do in the workings of the cosmos, as far as I am concerned. I post this Enlightenment-Era engraving here for metaphorical and aesthetic reasons because I take pleasure in the delightful monkey.]


Stories have tremendous value to human beings in ways we are still discovering; see my previous posts here, here, here, and here (among others). I keep coming across claims for the significance of story in surprising places–most recently in Dutton’s The Art Instinct and in Atul Gawande’s latest book, Being Mortal. Widely different texts, similar observations.

How is it we know who it is we are?

Possibly, in the process of inventing the story of ourselves, we become human. Perhaps the story of ourselves is fundamental to conscious “human” minds.

Speculation. But I love recalling that my children, when they were very very young, consistently made one particular demand of me: “Mama, tell me a story!”


7 comments on “Consciousness as story

  1. Alain Gracio says:

    Profound thinking and thoughts


  2. Laughing Dragon says:

    I love the speculative practices. I think more people should do it. I find that there is no real way of defining humanity simply because (as you listed) we are all defining it together, and yet we all understand it perfectly from our perspectives in contrast to the selves we build within.

    It’s a ridiculously intricate existence. But one I can’t help but wonder about.
    Thanks for asking such awesome questions. and for sharing them.


    • I do, too. Recognizing complexity is important if you want to learn to live simply. Isn’t that an odd paradox? I teach college, and one of the main things professors try to do is to multiply perspectives. Also, we ask students to ponder and to reflect–steps in the speculative practice. And isn’t that one thing that the college experience is intended to foster–the building of a unique, mature self?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I suspect you probably have friends who tell you that you think too much…


  4. […] without any drug intervention at all. It just springs into our beings at some point, as we create ourselves from lived events and construct speculative worlds and an understanding (though often flawed) of other […]


  5. KM Huber says:

    Story seems essential to us–integral even–for me, to describe story is like to trying to touch the wind. It is impossible to know or if there is an inkling, it is momentary for story changes or is it that consciousness shifts? “A scaffold to consciousness” is an image that seems to capture the relationship, just enough structure to hold the moment. Great post, Ann.


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